May 29, 2020

Friday Forum is an All Hands meeting for the Levels team, where they discuss their progress and traction each week.


Josh Clemente: [00:00:00] Starting back at the top. Welcome to May 29th, 2020. We’re about to be in June, halfway through 2020 somehow, which is wild, but yeah. Great! Great! First half of the year, let’s keep it going. Hopefully COVID is not making a resurgence later this year and we can really crush our goals. So I’m going to kick off with something that I’m grateful for.

Today, I had a really awesome workout this morning that set me in an awesome mindset and just – Yeah, I’m generally thankful for exercise and the way that I feel accomplished even though it’s a small thing. With that, here we go.

This past week has been really focused on app iterations that improve the onboarding experience. Over the past few weeks and months, we have been focusing aggressively on the product and getting features integrated. And so now we need to make sure that the experience associated with the product is matching the same cadence and improving schedule. We’ve improved a few key features. We’ve removed the account creation from the app and this allows us to use a much easier onboarding flow with the public test flight link so that people do not need to receive an invitation email for test flight, which they then have to go find in their inbox if there’s a timing or a phasing mismatch. And so that log-in removal was really important.

And also Jhon and David, great work this week on adding the self-serve synch to allow the individual user to do that themselves without needing to involve the ops team. It’s going to be great.

I believe a version of the app was submitted to Apple last night and I’m not sure it cleared yet, but we should be able to roll these features today.

Andrew Conner: [00:01:37] That’s on iOS.

Josh Clemente: [00:01:38] Yesterday I had a really –

On iOS. That’s right. And this is not an issue on Android as much because Android already has a public invite link that we can share. Yet not quite the same. We still will have that self-serve link in the Android app, but we just haven’t released it yet.

Let’s see. I had a really great call yesterday with Jody, from TB12. This is Tom Brady’s, personal wellness brand. And it was amazing listening to the way they were describing their audience and their goals. It’s almost verbatim to the way that Levels describes our positioning and focus. It’s all about empowering the individual and they really focus on the health seeker, somebody who is looking for a premium hands-on self-serve way to improve their health every single day. And so there’s a lot of great crossover there. We’re going to get them, one of the body coaches and Jody himself to try our product and I’m super enthusiastic about that partnership. Tom Brady’s obviously one of the all-time greats in sports, and so if we can forge a collaboration there it will be super beneficial. I also think we can benefit their clients. It’s not just for us. This is for them as well.

So professional sports interest continues to grow. We’ve got someone from Cleveland. The Cavaliers is joining us, which is basketball for those of you that don’t know, and the LA Angels, professional baseball. We’ve made those contacts just this week. It’s really exciting how this continues to spread just organically. We’ve made no pushes into the professional sports world really, besides just responding to outreach, which is awesome.

We’ve been dogfooding and brainstorming on the opportunities for improvement on the program experience. Thanks to David for spearheading this. Dogfooding, by the way, is essentially trying your own product, eating your own dog food to see how it tastes. And this was pretty eyeopening just to have someone on the team, and I have yet to do this myself, but David went through this past week and came up with just a huge number of easy opportunities for improvement. So we’re going to continue to focus here. And I think everyone on the team should experience the product from start to finish and not from a maker’s perspective, but from a customer’s perspective. This is how we will identify the frustrations. This should be an easy, elegant, enjoyable experience. It should not be something that you want to slam your phone down against the table for and I don’t think we really have that, but there are some opportunities that we can improve immediately and then longer term, we have to continue to do this process throughout development.

Our Weight Loss Challenge with Justin Mares filled all 50 slots this week. It took a little bit longer because they were staggering the rollout. So Justin did a couple different email lists. We did a couple different email lists, but we filled all the 50 slots and more. And so we’re now proceeding through consultations and into order fulfillment for that. The Weight Loss Challenge formally starts on June 8th.

And then we made some more study, CGM study progress this week with UPenn. Victoria Gershuni has continued to be a huge asset there and we should have a first draft framework, ready for everyone to see sometime late next week.

Ali Spagnola who has 2.5 million Twitter followers, and is just variously followed on all the different social channels. She has at least a hundred thousand followers on every platform and also has a fitness band and a humorous band and a podcast have been in touch with the team and she’s going to start very soon. I’ve been invited on her podcast. I think this is going to happen essentially Monday or Tuesday and generally this is going to be really awesome. Twitter has been a huge source of interest for us, so having 2.5 million followers, this could be potentially a huge landslide for us.

And then our waitlist is at about 12,500 since this week. So yeah, thanks everyone for all the great work this week.

Talked about this last week as well, but I want to reiterate it again. We made some good movement in the product experience direction, but there is a ton more necessary. David and I spent some intensive work on this, this week.  We’re focused primarily on the ‘getting started’ region, getting the app set up, getting your data link in place and getting the sensors installed in a very easy and straightforward way. So there’s a couple of documents that we’re working on right now that will go to this, but then there are several other moments throughout the program that are opportunities for delight and that currently are not quite delivering on it.

Everyone who’s using our product on the team should be thinking about the experience. Imagine that you are a customer and every time you touch something that is Levels produced, think critically about what you’re experiencing and whether or not this is frustrating from a customer perspective and then feed that back to the team so that we can make [inaudible] immediately.

As a result of NIC Help, we’re going to be majorly overhauling our ops systems scalability. We’ll be adding some Retool dashboards. Retool, by the way, is like the front end for our own database. So it’s very customizable and we can build some really great options for the ops team to stay up to speed on consultation, progress, on customer status throughout the actual Levels program, etc. There’s really no limitation to what we can do with Retool and our database. So that’s going to be a primary function. Zendesk is where we’re going to transition away from Close on Zapier over to Zendesk, which has a ticketing system, customer success, and customer sales, all in one holistic program which has a ton of benefits over Close. So I’m excited for that. And then lastly, the TruePill EHR is going to replace our Google Sheets EHR, and that’s where the consultations actually occur. So all of this stuff  we’re going to try and make these moves as quickly as possible, but we don’t want to drop any major balls, so it’s going to be a careful process. Probably will take one to two weeks.

And then we are going and to start testing these systems with with more beta users. So June and July are absolutely packed. I’ll show you the numbers on the next slide, but we’ve really had a ton of great interest and the team has continued to push the lead calls and engagement. And so we have several hundred people who are – Well, over a hundred people who are in the queue for June and July already. So this is going to be a big task of ourselves and of the systems, and it will also be very instructive for us. And lastly, we want to launch this year and secure next-gen hardware partnership. These are always going to remain on the hook on the horizon until we nailed them.

These are the weekly beta trends. We had 52 signups this week, 94 consult approvals, and 17 people were onboarded, 11 finished the program. So the mismatch between consultation and approvals and consultation onboarding can be explained by ops who is then manually holding – We’ve been holding the back for order fulfillment in June or July. And so this will continue to be mismatched for awhile. We’re going to start filling orders for the June program or actually we started that this past week. Those people will be getting their kits this week. And so June is going to be packed. We’re going to have well over 60, probably close to 80 people potentially in June, including the wearable challenge. So exciting and somewhat intimidating.

Any thoughts on any of this stuff thus far? Any questions? All right, Sam.

Sam Corcos: [00:08:27] Yeah. So we’re still doing well on cash. We’ve taken on a little bit more capital from some angels. We’re continuing to see more excitement within the VC world. I have a bunch more calls next week. It’s also been really exciting to see how revenues have been going. May was pretty – It was way ahead of what we projected. I think what our actual revenues were in May is what we were projecting for December. So we’re ahead of schedule there and it’s coming along really well. So that’s the update.

Josh Clemente: [00:09:04] Awesome. Any questions on finance, business? That stuff?

Dr. Casey Means: [00:09:11] Can I get a refresh, Josh?

Josh Clemente: [00:09:13] Right. Yes.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:09:18] Sweet. Okay. So content and thought leadership stuff. So just to recap some of our strategies, different tentacles we have going out in this regard. We’ve got high-level thought leadership pieces going out. We’ve got guest poses on external sources. We’re doing podcasts, Instagram influencer relationships, content marketing pieces, research partnerships, and then aiming for top tier press and other press opportunities.

Next slide.

I’ve got a lot of things, spaced out Josh, so I’m going to be tapping on you a lot.

So in terms of topics for press this week, so we had a big win with getting in Forbes. This was an article about metabolic health and trends in Mexico and what the US could learn from that. They hyperlinked to Levels and yeah, mentioned us throughout. And so it was definitely a great asset for us to be able to watermark on our website and everything.

Next slide.

There were a few derivative press pieces that came out of that, many of which linked Levels. So here’s just an example of people writing about that Forbes post.

Next slide.

In terms of our guest postings, I had a great conversation with a Type 2 diabetic who has a popular health blog called A Healthy Body. He is going to have us put some, or has offered to have us post some of our content marketing pieces and reposted our blog posts on his site and is happy to share them with his Twitter following. So that’s in motion.

We also were featured on the front page of Endocrine Web this week, on an article about PCOS and diabetes. So yeah, that was the featured story this week there and as well as a mention in that article to Levels and basically they just did a long interview with me on that relationship.

Next post or next slide.

In terms of thought leadership, we’ve got a lot of different directions going. So this week we had our PCOS article go live on our blog, How Continuous Glucose Monitoring Can Help with Infertility in PSOS. There was a lot of great input and coordination with two OB-GYNs Rachna Vanjani and Julie Suyama  on that piece who were extremely helpful and I hope that will be an asset to our customers who are concerned about PCOS. I also was approached by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine to co-create a diabetes epigenetics course. So I’m in talks with their president of  ACLM about that which is exciting. And then we’ve got other pieces in the pipeline from our various thought leader contributors, like Colleen Gulick who has just finished her third article. And so we’re working on getting that reviewed. Oh, sorry. I actually posted the wrong picture there.

Next slide.

In terms of Instagram and influencer relationships. So we had our First Instagram Live, with Anthony Kunkel this week, which I think went really well. It was an opportunity to get our feet wet. It wasn’t super highly promoted or super wide reach, but this was mostly to get the mechanics done. And I think it was a really interesting conversation and very – It was exactly what I wanted it to be, which was talking about some unique trends, unique themes, touching on the research, touching on his narrative, personal experience.

And so we’re going to work to create some derivative content from that that we can leverage more widely. And this is the start of basically a series we’re going to be doing with him. But then there are going to be a number of other opportunities to do Instagram Lives, with other people with big followings coming up, people like Ben Bikman and others and then just continuing relationships, trying to be a personal asset to some of our different influencers. Arla introduced us to an influencer named Ali Bonar who is avokween, who I’m going to be referring in. Sam introduced me to Ali Spagnola with her hundred thousand Instagram followers and millions of Twitter followers. And we’ve been chatting on Instagram and hopefully I can be a resource for her as she goes into the program. Continuing to chat with Arla who’s connecting with various people. And then Sarah Coffins, of course, still very engaged. So just, yeah, forging those relationships and yeah, building those.

Next slide.

Our content marketing efforts are going full steam ahead with Alex Moskov leading that effort on the writing. These are the articles he completed for May, which is fantastic. These are going to be those pieces that answer questions that people are Googling about and a little bit easily digestible and I think will be great. So a number of these are going to be going towards different blogs that we have guest posting opportunities on, A Healthy Body and then some will go on our blog as well. And yeah, the to-do on these is basically – Many of them still need to be basically reviewed and edited by me before they can go live. But we’ve got, we’re building our stockpile of great content marketing creation.

Next slide.

We’re also pushing on the interview and testimonial front. So this week, Anthony Castillo, who is a beta user of ours and is a professional sports dietician, and as involved as a sports dietician with professional sports teams and also with his personal clients. We spoke last week about basically setting up a testimonial plan for him, of things he could write for our blog. And so it’s going to be mutually beneficial, for him and also for us. And he pumped out a fantastic article this week really quickly, which I was thrilled about basically talking about how Levels can impact athletic performance and the work of a sports dietician. And it is just super [inaudible]. He talks a lot about basically just how this is a game changer for dieticians and professional sports teams. So that has been edited and should go live on the blog very soon and yeah, really amped that he was so on it with that. And he’s going to put out a second article basically talking about his personal experience with Levels, really focusing on the features that he loved about the app. So that’s great.

Next slide. Josh.

In terms of podcasts – It works now. Yeah.

In terms of podcasts. We’ve got Veggie Doctor Radio on Tuesday. We were invited back on Wellness Force, Radio and podcasts are going to be something that I’m really going to be focusing more energy on in the next couple of weeks. We’ve got a number of podcasts identified that we want to reach out to. And so that outreach push is just going to be ramped up soon. It just takes a little bit of upfront investment, but the payoff is gigantic. And then of course, Josh just mentioned he’s going to be on Ali’s podcast, which is fantastic. So that’s, yeah, something we’re going to be doubling down on.

Next slide.

Josh mentioned the research partnerships. We’ve got a number of people that we’re talking to in academia, but the one that’s most pushing along is our UPenn partnership. We had two great meetings over the past couple of weeks and are really making progress in ironing out the details with that. So more to come, as Josh mentioned, probably at the end of next week, as we really get our methods settled, but this is a very exciting movement forward.

Next slide.

So in terms of future directions, I’m going to be continuing all those different things that I just mentioned that we have been working on this week and then more focused on core, fundamental pieces on the blog like Levels’ dietary philosophy, revamping the “What is Metabolic Fitness” post, and the Basics of Metabolic Health. And then definitely a little bit more focused on the podcast outreach push since that’s a real, huge ROI.

And then next slide.

This is just a little brief overview of where we’re at in terms of SEO and search ranking. So on the left, far left is just looking at some of the common search terms and we’re starting to really rank in the top five for a number of important terms, Levels Health, Levels CGM. We’re number one for glucose and skin. We are number three for unlock levels. So we’re moving up there. At the top you can see our clicks are just steadily increasing. Bottom, middle photo. What you’re looking at there is basically how long people are spending on our pages and it’s continuing to be super strong. So people are spending between two and five minutes on many of our blog posts, an average of five minutes on our 12 glucose lowering strategies blog post. So I think that’s really promising and just showing that people are getting some value out of this. And our search visibility just continues to rise with over 150 search terms related to us, increasing over the past week. Yeah, good news on that front.

So basically I think a lot of what we’re doing is working and I’m going to just keep pushing hard and I think, yeah, Nick Crosby is going to be helpful also amplifying some of this. And yeah, exciting stuff.

Josh Clemente: [00:18:09] Awesome. Killer update. Yeah. That’s really how much stuff happened this week on that end. So thank you. All right.

David Flinner: [00:18:16] On the tangible deliverable front we’re making really good progress. I know you’ve seen these mocks for the last couple of weeks, but what you’re seeing now is not a mock that’s an actual implementation of the weekly email.

So it changed a bit from the last week, but we can’t have the dial-based summary section. But this is something that we can totally programmatically do and give out to users starting very soon. So next step on the weekly report is to have the backend implementation done, something that Andrew will be working on and hopefully we can get this out sooner than later, hopefully a matter of days. And again, the weekly report’s intention is to show you how you’re doing, how your past week has been, and point the path forward towards improvement opportunities. So it’s going to summarize your best and worst meals of the week, give you a glance as to how your metabolic fitness is trending, your average glucose is trending and see these three weeks and things like that.

Next slide.

Oh, I did not include the slide about this, but I should just briefly call out that the monthly report is also progressing. One of our engineering contractors, Jeff, is working on that and that’s coming along quite nicely, too. One of the mid program friction points that we’re seeing, especially as we were getting a lot of traction with athletes, is that the experience for athletic pursuits, for strenuous endeavors is not ideal. So right now we give you a zone score and penalize you with a metabolic fitness score both on the low side if you have exercise and do spike. And so we will be smoothing out those rough spots this week coming up, basically not giving you a score if you flagged a zone that’s containing a strenuous exercise and then also not penalizing you and your metabolic fitness scores. So that’s the low hanging fruit. There’s so much more we can do on exercise specific metrics in helping athletes improve better, but taking care of some of the rough edges to start.

Next slide.

And then I don’t have a new mock for this yet, but the comparison feature was very popular. One of the next things I’ll be thinking through is bringing back the compare feature, but to work with zones. So that way people can see how their experiments are working out for them and it’s also something that people really like to share on social media. So if you have any ideas on how this could be improved based on your experience with the previous version, let me know. I’m going to try to mirror the previous version for an initial start, if that’s going to be a faster way to launch it. But this is on my radar.

Next slide. Yeah. I guess that’s it.

Josh Clemente: [00:20:35] Awesome. We’re looking forward to those reports. Andrew.

Andrew Conner: [00:20:41] Okay. Modi is not showing. All right. Yeah. Something that you probably won’t notice until you do the dogfooding is that the app onboarding is much improved. So thanks, Jhon, for that. Coach went live on the pro dashboard and it sounds like it’s going well. Yeah. If you have any last feedback on the daily email, please send it. This is going to go live for everyone. So yeah, now is the time to say something if you have any thoughts. We have the new funky date picker slider, which is neat, and several users noticed it and really liked it. So that’s great. Wearable Challenge is going out. So they’ll have custom daily emails and we have a payment dashboard that we’ll be using. EMR stuff is frozen right now. We are waiting on them on some stuff. I’m talking to one of their co-founders today. So hopefully we’ll know more about that kind of scheduling and their relative priorities inside the company.

One of the things we want to make sure is that we’re not reading noise as we’re doing this. And that means if you had two sensors on, they should very much agree. Last fall I had a period of time where I wore two sensors. And so here, the blue line is or the cyan line on the bottom is same time, but two sensors. And you see basically they have the exact same complexity. So even though there is a lot of variation difference between them and you see noise and the spikes can actually be a little bit different. The complexity is actually far more stable, which is another huge win because this means, this is more evidence that the metric is a good one for us to use to represent longer-term health. It means that there seems to be less noise than that. And so you can see the red line, very similar. This is a small sample size, but it’s encouraging that we didn’t find what would be bad. Yeah. I think we had a lot of stuff go out this week, so congrats everyone. Yeah. Things are chugging along nicely.

Josh Clemente: [00:22:26] Awesome. Yeah. So much good stuff. This week was huge. I didn’t realize it myself until we got to this. Thanks everybody.

Okay. Midway point, individual contributions. So Jhon, you want to kick this off?

Jhon: [00:22:39] Yep. Levels related. I am excited about something new we are going to develop next week. It’s the push notifications feature. If done well, they will help us to improve engagement on the app. We are going to start with just reminders and then we will see how we can use this for other features. I have always thought that push notifications are very powerful.

Non-Levels related. I’m excited about seeing soccer coming back. I am a big fan of soccer, especially European soccer. Last week the German league started again and there are plans for the English and Italian leagues to start again in the next month. So for me the English is the best soccer league in the world. So I can’t wait to hang out with my friends, have fun, watch some matches in the afternoon and then play some FIFA on the PlayStation until very early in the morning.

That’s it.

Josh Clemente: [00:23:53] Awesome. Yeah. Normalcy come back. All right. Jumping over to Mike.

Mike: [00:24:00] Yeah. Excited about a lot of things in Levels. I think it’s interesting. Sam emailed today, the people are hearing about us from people that haven’t even tried the product. So that’s super exciting and the feedback and people are noticing every time I release a new update. I know David gets messages from his emails and I get a bunch of notes and it was yesterday on a call that I had on a debrief. He’s like, I just love seeing all the updates. It shows a lot about your team and how hard you’re working. So kudos to everyone there.

Personally, I’m happy about a lot and I think I actually might be going home in two weeks. I love being with my family, but I’ve been away for like almost, it will be four months, actually I think it’s four months today. So excited to make my way back to the East Coast.

Josh Clemente: [00:24:52] I’ll believe it when I see it. Mike, for those of you that don’t know,  left Philadelphia in January for a two week trip. All right, Casey.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:25:06] Yeah. Basically, Levels front, excited about everything that was in this presentation. It feels like really great progress and super, super exciting. Really enjoyed my conversation with Anthony Kunkel this week on Instagram Live. It’s just fun to rap out about some of the nuances of this stuff and just nerd out. And so that was fun. And yeah, definitely the Forbes article was exciting. Got a lot of really great notes about adding stuff from interesting people in my network. So that was awesome.

From personal front, the weather in Portland has finally decided to be great. And so it’s been sunny and 80 degrees every day this week. And so that’s been just such a great just morale booster, I think, for the city. And yeah, I’ve been getting out and running for the first time in a while and just loving running. And yeah, just doing nightly little bike rides. And I invested in adding a back bike rack to my bike. So now I can put panniers on the bike so I can do my grocery store runs with the bike and potentially do bike camping in the future. And so just upgrading my bike because I’m getting more into it and it’s super fun and I have to say this team has definitely inspired me on that front, between all the running and Mike’s posts and people doing long bike rides on the weekend. It’s definitely really wonderful to be surrounded by people who are also doing really great physical stuff. And yeah, certainly it does inspire me. So thanks to all. Yeah.

Josh Clemente: [00:26:35] Awesome. Love that. We should be  – We need to be the examples for a low-glycemic lifestyle and also fitness. I think.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:26:44] Totally.

Josh Clemente: [00:26:44] Yeah, I think we’re doing that. I have also been completely negligent on the fitness chat. So I need to get back into that. I am working on it, I’m just not letting everyone know.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:26:53] Let us know. It’s so motivating.

Josh Clemente: [00:26:57] I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:27:00] I’ll post mine this week.

Josh Clemente: [00:27:02] Yeah. Awesome.

Yeah. So I am super excited about this. All the focus on the ops side. Throughout the process of just thinking about the processes we have in place and what’s necessary to scale it. It’s taken me some time to get my own mind around what we need, what the longterm systems should be. But it’s starting to  come into focus and being on top of what the product should look like and just how people should pass through that. And so I’ve just gotten over the past week, a ton of value out of those conversations and I think I can see for the first time what the systems should be and how they can function and how smooth and elegant the experience can be versus where we are today. And that’s exciting. For a little while there, I was struggling to understand exactly what we need to change in order to improve these processes.

So I’m looking forward to changing all of that and getting us into the next phase of scalability and of just lowering the burden on the ops team to constantly juggle every single customer without forgetting and having someone fall through the cracks. I feel personally responsible every time something like that happens and although we’re doing a really great job and a Herculean effort from the ops team, particularly Mike and Lorie. I appreciate that. Still, the onus is on me and us to improve that and I think we will be able to do. So throughout that and then –

Yeah. This past weekend I got to spend with my family who I haven’t seen much lately, obviously. And it was really nice. I just had a really relaxing weekend outside, sitting on the deck and just enjoying, meeting my niece and having a little bit of normal food. Like I said again, I had a really great Memorial day weekend. My brothers who are both Marine Corps, active duty and former, were able to come out and it was just really nice to see everybody and hang out that weekend. So it’s a tradition for us to see each other on Memorial day and that was – I’m glad we got to do that.

All right. I’m going to say up to Evan now.

Evan: [00:28:52] Great. Oh, I just want to say that it’s really impressive, so much of the engineering work that’s been getting done.

In personal life. I’m back at the co-working space. They opened it back up. There’s a total of four people here. They’ve removed a lot of the furniture. There’s signs everywhere and there’s also sneeze guards. It ‘s one long table with these triangle sneeze guards so people can’t sneeze on each other. So it’s pretty legit and it’s great. The furniture is comfy. There’s air conditioning for when it gets above 80 and, which is super dangerous but super comfy. So I’m just really excited to have a great place to work again.

Josh Clemente: [00:29:31] Nice. That’s awesome. Sam.

Sam Corcos: [00:29:37] Yeah. For me,  I wanted to add to what Mike was saying, how it’s interesting to see people are getting referred into Levels by people that have not even used the program yet. We’re seeing people who sign up, have heard about Levels and have heard, positive things about it from three, four, five, six different people. I think a lot of that has to do with Casey’s work on our content strategy. The people who have read our blog posts are really, really impressed with it, very credible people as well. So I’m excited that the strategy that we have set out to implement to establish thought leadership in metabolic health seems to be really working.

Josh Clemente: [00:30:20] Last one. Yeah. I sent over some of the exercise stuff to the TB12 team and they were, verbatim, blown away. Super interesting stuff and right down their alley. And so yeah, a hundred percent agree with that. Thanks everybody.

Today, I dropped the ball and did not send out the notification for the story of the day. So I’m going to have to pick it up and I have nothing really prepared. I’m just going to dive into this one. And this one feels like a little bit of coming out of the closet, in a sense. So I was homeschooled and I’m going to just talk about that. And a lot of people have preexisting assumptions about what home schoolers are like, and it’s oftentimes interesting to hear those perspectives.

I was homeschooled from K through 12, all the way through and then straight to college. And yeah, so the reason for that – My mom was a high school teacher when she and my dad got married and she decided basically super early that she wanted to be her kids’ teacher and they wanted to have a large family and she just did not – She wanted to spend as much time as possible and she figured, “This is my skillset. So it’s what I want to do.” So that was never a question for them. They always decided it was going to happen. And so yeah, I was number two and there are nine kids in our family. My mom homeschooled all of them from K through 12 and the way that they went about it, I think was really interesting. Their goals were, they wanted to allow us to learn independently because having one person teaching people of many different grades can be complicated, obviously, because there’s just tons of different coursework and curricula to care about. Early on it became clear that my mom needed to – and my dad helped, obviously, quite a bit – but wanted to free us up to be able to learn independently on our own. So give us the course materials, give us the concepts and then we had to go through the motions. And my mom was there to keep us, like bumper bowling, keep us from falling off the rails and moving forward.

So I was free to experiment and explore. I was able to – If we were learning a certain subject, I was able to suggest things that I wanted to get out of it. For example biology, dissections. Chemistry was actually my favorite class. And so I loved to be able to have my dad pick up stuff from the hardware store and bring it home for crazy garage experiments. There was a lot of fire, many near misses or gaseous substances. But overall, it was a huge opportunity, I think, to be unconstrained.

Yeah. So my mom taught us all of the subjects , from start to finish. Trying to think for cons. I’ll start with the cons. Yeah. There were certainly drawbacks that I look back on and remember feeling pretty acutely at the time and this – The primary one, which actually fades with time. It gets less and less – It becomes clear to me that it was less of an issue than it felt like when I was 16 years old. I often missed opportunities to, for example, play sports on school teams, be involved in larger social events with people my age. Those sorts of experiences that – When you’re homeschooled, most counties will not allow you to participate in the sports leagues for the local school, unless you are enrolled at the school. And so I was doing things like Boy Scouts and that type of stuff, but it never really clicked for me, so I ended up just connecting with a very close group of friends who shared similar backgrounds, a lot of homeschooled kids from the area, but also a lot of kids from schools who were just mechanically minded and liked to hang out at our place and do crazy things.

It could feel oppressive, in a sense, not going to school each day with your friends. Instead, just getting up, getting dressed and starting to do your schoolwork. It can feel also somewhat oppressive for sure when you’re younger and you don’t necessarily have that adult-to-adult relationship with your parents yet. It can feel like there’s nowhere to escape.

But again, that certainly faded with time. And then now, I largely look back on it as strictly a positive experience. I did learn to learn and teach myself. I forged a really great relationship with my siblings. We’re essentially all inseparable. We love spending time with each other one-on-one or in a group. And I made a group of lifelong friends and explored the woods, built crazy things and I learned to climb to absurd heights in trees and just do crazy things during the day to get my energy out. When I was not making forward progress with my coursework, I could just go do that.

I could weld at age 11 and I worked in a metal fab shop a few times a week at age 13. So I got these opportunities to do things that were abnormal for sure. But for that welding thing, for example, in college, for my senior design project, I built a full scale emergency response vehicle. It was like a tube frame, steel, field dune buggy thing that could steer with all four wheels. And I built that because hurricane Katrina had recently happened and it was front of mind. Ambulances were unable to get to people because there was rubble everywhere. I did all the fab work myself. Welded everything and I won the Class of 2010 Mechanical Engineering award at my school. And I actually used that project as my interview presentation at SpaceX and it got me the job at SpaceX. The reason I could do that is because my dad gave me a welder in the garage to play around with when I was a kid as a class.

Yeah. And I skipped most of my actual college classes and ended up just tutoring people at homework because I could learn straight out of the book because that’s what I’d done my whole life and I didn’t really necessarily have to sit through a lecture. Now when skillsets matter more to me than experiences or past experiences, I would definitely say that it was super positive and I made a personal 180 with my perspective on homeschooling.

And it’s interesting to see – Recently, I think, there’s a company called Primer that just launched that’s focused on enabling homeschooling and bringing tools that I think would be super valuable to that community. And yeah, I’m optimistic. I’m long on homeschooling now.

And I will close by showing the Clemente Class and their teacher, teachers. So this is my family. I have six sisters, two brothers and my parents they’re on the far right. Rodney joined the family when he was 15. So he skipped some of my mom’s classes at a younger age, but ultimately she finished out his high school years as his teacher. He joined the military, went to the Marines for four years, and then now at Fordham University studying physics. That’s all of us right there. This is an outdated photo a few years back. But yeah, that’s my story of the week.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:36:34] That is such an amazing story, Josh, and that part about welding and SpaceX seriously gave me chills. That was just so cool to think, in hindsight, the different steps that led to those big moments in life. And I think it’s so cool how you verbalized it and appreciated that interesting sequence of events and from age 11 to your SpaceX interview and now this week, the shuttle launching. It’s just a very cool full circle. And yeah, thanks for sharing that.

Josh Clemente: [00:37:01] Yeah, for sure. Yeah. It was a truly an interesting experience and I think interesting experiences matter. It was a long experience, long experiment, but yeah, I think it was worthwhile.

Anyway, a little bit early. Sorry, go ahead.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:37:15] How was it, do you think, for your mom day-to-day? Was it, was everyone doing their own thing and she was freed up? Or was it totally crazy for her running around with nine kids at home?

Josh Clemente: [00:37:26] Yeah. So the kids were all about two years apart, so she always had young kids who were trying to learn to read and write, like the very basics, which certainly are not self-structured. So she basically always had this teacher role that she was doing. Whereas the older kids, once you got to about age 10-ish, you were doing your own coursework and it was expected that you would get it done. She would just be grading tests and quizzes and things like that.

It was certainly a challenge throughout. She did an amazing job, but I just cannot personally believe that she pulled it off. It was definitely stressful for her and there were some hard days, to say the least, especially once myself and my younger sister got up to our teenage years and she was dealing with that 24/7 and trying to get us educated. I just like, it’s a miracle.

Sam Corcos: [00:38:14] [inaudible] Josh were rebels.

Josh Clemente: [00:38:15] Yeah. We were rebels. Which is why I love the ice cream brand so much.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:38:24] One of my EENT colleagues, she homeschooled her kids and only did it three days a week, or I think it was a half day, three days a week. But it seemed like it was a lot less time than actually going to structured school because you could fit a lot in. Was that how it was for you? Or was it every day, five days a week, normal schedule?

Josh Clemente: [00:38:44] Yeah. So I had weekly requirements. So it was like, you have to get through these chapters of your reading, these math quizzes. I would do over the weekends a curriculum check and make sure that we had goals. And then I could either try and get it all done with 20 hour days on two days or I could spread it out and try to do four or five hour days throughout the week. And I usually did the latter. I just didn’t have enough attention to do a long day of school. So I would do probably four to five hours of work and then just go outside. I tried to be outside by two o’clock in the afternoon. I didn’t start as early as the school. So I would get up probably 8:30 and be working and then I’d try to be outside by two o’clock and just doing my own thing.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:39:21] Wow!

Josh Clemente: [00:39:22] So that worked pretty well for me. My older sister was super studious. She would do schoolwork and homework after her homeschooling day. That was not me.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:39:32] So interesting, even that sleep component. It was probably a positive for your learning too. Just knowing that kids need a lot of sleep and being able to sleep in a little bit. That’s pretty cool.

Josh Clemente: [00:39:41] Good point. Never thought of that.

Unknown Speaker: [00:39:49]  Question here.

Josh Clemente: [00:39:50] All right.

Unknown Speaker: [00:39:50] If you had kids, would you do the same with them?

Josh Clemente: [00:39:57] That’s a good question. I’ve been grappling with that one actually quite a bit.

Yeah. I think I absolutely am open to it. I think it would have to be a joint decision with my wife. But yeah, it would be something that I would love to be able to do. I definitely am grateful for it and obviously recognize the benefits of having grown up that way and I would definitely love to be able to do that myself. I’m blown away that my parents just went for it. It feels like this huge consequential decision, even though I experienced it, it still feels that way, maybe even more so. So it would certainly have to be the right circumstances to pull it off, I think. But I am getting more and more, I’m leaning more and more towards just default baselining that as the years go on for sure.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:40:41] Wow!

Evan: [00:40:44] Yeah. I have a question. How much inter-child tutoring was done? For example, it seems like, based on that photo, you’re low key in the middle. Did you help your younger siblings learn to read or were you more self-involved, more focused on your own?

Josh Clemente: [00:41:03] Good question. I was actually the second oldest, so I did quite a bit of helping my younger siblings, typically on science stuff. Because it was the only thing I actually liked enough to obey my parents’ request for help. My older sister would help out with grading literature and stuff and more of the grammar side. And I would help out with science experiments and getting all the supplies and helping my younger siblings do so. So there was some of that. It wasn’t a ton though because we were always trying to get away with as little as possible and so my mom was eternally giving us homework and It was hard to free up the time to go help siblings. But yeah, I do think that was key.  We did help each other learn, and I think that was key with forging relationships with each other. Over time, that became a really trusting bond there, the Clemente siblings.

All right. Anything else related or unrelated to that wild story I just told?

Evan: [00:42:00] Thanks for sharing. That’s awesome.

Josh Clemente: [00:42:04] Yeah, of course.

Unknown Speaker: [00:42:05] Excellent.

Josh Clemente: [00:42:06] At some point we need to get an off-site at the Clemente Compound, as it’s called, and you guys can meet the tribe and I think that’d be really fun.

Sam Corcos: [00:42:15] So it’s definitely a compound. I’ve been there.

Josh Clemente: [00:42:19] Sure. There will be waivers signed at the driveway.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:42:25] The best long weekends start with a waiver being signed. So I’m all for it.

Josh Clemente: [00:42:30] I hundred percent agree.

Sam Corcos: [00:42:33] He’s not joking, by the way, in case that was unclear.

Josh Clemente: [00:42:41] Yeah. That’ll be another story. That’s another story, why we have waivers.

Dr. Casey Means: [00:42:44] Oh, wait. You’re not joking about that? Oh my God!.

Josh Clemente: [00:42:50] It depends on the activities we have planned. But there are waivers for certain activities. That is true.

Unknown Speaker: [00:42:56] Waivers and MREs.

Josh Clemente: [00:43:00] That’s a meal ready to eat in the military and Harlan’s.

Unknown Speaker: [00:43:05] I’m curious how much – How many people days of food is currently at the compound?

Josh Clemente: [00:43:13] Depends on your interpretation of food. There are dry goods. You can certainly – Literally, my parents buy 50 pound bags of rice and dry goods  – beans, rice, those types of staples. We have canned goods that are – Yeah. You could definitely keep the family going for months in the compound. And in fact, actually my parents were a part of the Y2K peer group. I don’t know how many of your parents were, but they stocked up for Y2K and we lived on what they stocked up on for two years. We just went shopping downstairs. It was an unbelievable amount that they pulled in.

Yeah. And our refrigerator in the kitchen is six feet wide and it’s about four feet deep. It’s a commercial grade – I can’t remember the – True. True is the name of the brand, but it’s just this gigantic – You could fit multiple humans in there if you needed to keep them cool.

Yeah. All right. I think that concludes us for May 29th, 2020, and I will wish you all a happy weekend and we’ll talk next week or probably over the weekend.

Unknown Speaker: [00:44:21] Take care. Bye. Yeah.